Essay Writing for Standardized Tests: Tips for Writing a Five Paragraph Essay
Most, if not all, high school and college standardized tests include a writing portion. Students are provided a writing prompt and must then write an essay on the topic. Writing for standardized tests can strike fear in the hearts and minds of students of all ages, but it doesn’t have to. If you know what to expect and understand how to write a five paragraph essay, you will be prepared to tackle any essay writing prompt.
Types of Essays on Standardized Tests
When you begin to write your essay for a standardized test, you must first decide what type of essay you are being asked to write. There are many different types of essays, including narrative, expository, argumentative, persuasive, comparative, literary, and so on. The type of essay will determine your topic and thesis. Essays for standardized tests are typically either persuasive, in which you will answer a question, or literary, in which you will write about something you read.
For standardized tests, students usually have to write a five paragraph essay, which should be 500 to 800 words long and include an introductory paragraph, three supporting paragraphs and a concluding paragraph.
The First Paragraph: The Introduction
The first paragraph will introduce your topic. The introduction is the most important paragraph because it provides direction for the entire essay. It also sets the tone, and you want to grab the reader’s attention with interest and clarity. The best way to tackle the introduction is to:
- Describe your main idea, or what the essay is about, in one sentence. You can usually use the essay writing prompt or question to form this sentence.
- Develop a thesis statement, or what you want to say about the main idea. When the writing prompt is a question, your thesis is typically the answer to the question.
- List three points or arguments that support your thesis in order of importance (one sentence for each).
Voila! You’ve just written your introductory paragraph.
The Second, Third and Fourth Paragraphs: Supporting Details
These three paragraphs form the body of the essay. They provide details, such as facts, quotes, examples and concrete statistics, for the three points in your introductory paragraph that support your thesis. Take the points you listed in your introduction and discuss each in one body paragraph. Here’s how:
- First, write a topic sentence that summarizes your point. This is the first sentence of your paragraph.
- Next, write your argument, or why you feel the topic sentence is true.
- Finally, present your evidence (facts, quotes, examples, and statistics) to support your argument.
Now you have a body paragraph. Repeat for points two and three. The best part about introducing your main points in the first paragraph is that it provides an outline for your body paragraphs and eliminates the need to write in transitions between paragraphs.
The Fifth Paragraph: The Conclusion
The concluding paragraph must summarize the essay. This is often the most difficult paragraph to write. In your conclusion, you should restate the thesis and connect it with the body of the essay in a sentence that explains how each point supports the thesis. Your final sentence should uphold your main idea in a clear and compelling manner. Be sure you do not present any new information in the conclusion.
When writing an essay for a standardized test, outline your essay and get through each paragraph as quickly as possible. Think of it as a rough draft. When your time is up, a complete essay will score more points than an incomplete essay because the evaluator is expecting a beginning, middle and an end.
If you have time to review your essay before your time is up, by all means do so! Make any revisions that you think will enhance your “rough draft” and be sure to check for any grammatical errors or misspellings.
Online instruction like the Time4Writing essay writing courses for elementary, middle and high school students can help children prepare for state and college-entrance standardized writing tests. These interactive writing classes build basic writing skills, explain essay types and structure, and teach students how to organize their ideas.
For general tips on test preparation and details about each state’s standardized tests, please visit our standardized test overview page.
Levels of Generality within a Paragraph
by Jane Degenhardt
This exercise is designed to help you to recognize how the sentences within a paragraph are (or should be) interrelated according to different levels of generality. See the example below to understand how each sentence can be assigned a number that indicates its level of generality. If the first sentence is the topic sentence, then it should be labeled as a level "1," because in a sense, it is the most "general" statement in the paragraph. Sentences labeled as level "2" support or continue to explain the idea in the topic sentence; they are less general than the topic sentence because they focus on something specific that is related to the topic sentence. Sentences labeled as level "3" support or continue to explain level "2" sentences. Sentences labeled as level "4" support or continue to explain level "3" sentences, and so on.
The sentences in the paragraph below are separated and labeled by number to show their levels of generality.
1. If you are worried about the psychological makeup of prospectivetentmates, you might want to invest in a shelter sewn from pink fabric.(topic sentence) 2. Behavioral psychologists speculate that there may be hormonal neurotransmitters in the eye that are stimulated by the discrete wavelengths of certain colors. 3. These are thought to affect the hormonal output of the brain's hypothalamus, pineal, and pituitary glands, which in turn determine mood. 2. In a series of highly publicized experiments, test subjects were placed in a small room painted in a shade known as "Baker-Miller pink." 3. Within fifteen minutes of entering the small chamber, say the researchers, the subjects' muscles were tranquilized to the point of weakness, and there was a dramatic reduction in "violent, aberrant, aggressive, and self-mutilative behavior" in criminals, paranoid schizophrenics, and "obstreperous youths." --John Krakauer, Eiger Dreams
Try labeling the sentences in the paragraph below by placing a "1", "2," or "3" before each sentence.
____ Although the idea of being a circus clown has held appeal for meever since childhood, the practicalities of learning the trade have alwayskept me at bay. ____ I would not enjoy getting into a tiny car andsitting very, very close to other members of my profession. ____ Younever really know where another clown has been, and those tiny cars arehavens for disease. ____ Also, I do not want to litter my friends' homeswith my failed balloon art. ____ Finally, I am not anxious to haveseltzer poured down my pants. ____ I am afraid this could trigger someof my bad memories from junior high school. ____ However, when a magazine editor told me that a singles resort inNegril, Jamaica, was, in an attempt to lure off-peak guests, holding acircus workshop in which it would bring "all the excitement of the bigtent to its sandy white beach on the Caribbean sea," the inherentgraciousness of resort living persuaded me to abandon my preconceptionsand accept the assignment. --Henry Alford, Municipal Bondage
In groups, construct your own paragraphs according to the following paragraph structures.
Topic Sentence: This apartment really needs redecorating! 2_________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________ 3_________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________ 2_________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________ 3_________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________ 3_________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________
Topic Sentence: The question of how to restrict children's access to"inappropriate" content in the media without violating first amendmentrights is a complex one. 2_________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________ 2_________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________ 3_________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________ 4_________________________________________________ 4_________________________________________________ 2_________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________ 3_________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________
Now, see if you can label the levels of generality in paragraphs from your own essays. Identify places where there are problems, for example, too many level "2" sentences and no level "3" or level "4" sentences, or sentences which can't be labeled at all because they don't relate to any of the other sentences in the paragraph.
____ Their journey towards complete independence from the greater population begins with one fight. ___ This initial fight occurs just after the narrator has "met" Tyler for the first time. ___ The scene is written as a memory in order to emphasize its place in the past, and the anonymous man narrates the scene so as to underscore that it is the beginning of his own departure from society. ___ The narrator begins with the statement, "When we invented fight club, Tyler and I, neither of us had ever been in a fight before" (Palahniuk 52). ___ This statement, while placing the scene in its chronological context, also puts the characters in their position in society. ___ They are seen as "good" boys who never shifted from what society expected from them. ___ The narrator believes that he will only be successful in his escape from society if he allows Tyler to assume power over him. ___ This assumption of power happens almost immediately. ___ In the text, the narrator asks Tyler to close his eyes, and Tyler simply says, "no" (52). ___ Later in the passage the narrator attempts to hit Tyler, but he misses, and says that it did not count. ___ Tyler simply replies, "Yeah it counted," and the narrator obeys immediately. ___ These quick segments of conversation between the two characters show a change in authority. ___ Tyler has assumed complete control with total ease. ___ By allowing his disorder to overtake his mind, the narrator further alienates himself from society because his disorder is considered cause for institutionalization. ___ It is interesting to point out that the author uses the word "whispers" when describing the tone in which Tyler's fans speak to him at the end of the passage. ___ Perhaps this sums up the large amount of quietness that exists in the story with reference to Tyler's Project Mayhem. ___ This secrecy in itself could constitute a metaphor to the theme of alienation. ___ A group of emasculated men find themselves isolated in society without knowing what their roles are. ___ They are forced to find a role model and alienate themselves from society in secrecy. ___ Careful installments of detail and imagery draw attention to the trivialities of urban, yuppie lifestyle instead of exalting the manly brawls. ___ Compared to descriptions of nine-to-five, clerical drones at work, fight scenes are relatively simplistic and unexaggerated. ___ The description of a fight is restrained to a "kick," "pound," and "limp" equation (Palaniuk 48-9). ___ Instead of vividly imagining a fight scene, the reader's attention is directed to a copy room clerk that cannot "put colored slip sheets between the copy packets" (Palaniuk 48). ___ Even the narrator is subject to this bias in details. ___ He may have a "mouthful of blood," but the focus is on his boss' banalities concerning "pale cornflower blue" icons (Palaniuk 49). ___ The imagery serves as anecdotes of absurdity, pinpointing where society is meaningless in defining individuals. ___ It is not the "shirt and tie" or the various office titles like "recall campaign coordinator" that make a man (Palaniuk 49). ___ In a cinematic adaptation of the novel, the impact of graphic violence may transform a kid into "a god for ten minutes," but a textual rendition indicates otherwise (Palaniuk 49). ___ Mike Pattenden's review of Fight Club for The London Times, states that fight club is a "club that eventually grows into a cult." ___ In the film, fight club begins as a casual hobby but turns into a way of life. ___ The dictionary definition of a club is a group of people who come together for a common purpose. ___ Fight club evolves and more closely mirrors the definition of a cult because it develops into a group with an almost religious devotion and with a charismatic leader who indoctrinates members with extremist views. ___ The scene that shows the progression of fight club concentrates on the narrator, its creator, and Bob, one of its members. ___ It is the first time that the two meet after they have joined fight club. Both Bob and the narrator have more self respect due to their participation in the club. ___ It will not be until Tyler, the creator of fight club and also the narrator's alter ego, intensifies his role of leader in the members lives, will they fully regain their masculinity, a quality that Tyler tells them they have lost.